Friday, May 04, 2012
About 19 years ago I took a short story course with Phil Stevick at Temple University. I was getting my first Master's--it was a peculiar hybrid of academic MA and fiction MFA. Stevick's class was centered on the modern short story, particularly inovators of the 20th century. I was turned on to Calvino, Garcia-Marquez, Borges, Gordimer, Coetzee; this was a mesmerizing course. We were tasked with finding a new potentially important writer who might make a mark on the pantheon some day. I found, via a brief NPR story, a young Native American named Sherman Alexie. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven had just come out. I read it and critiqued it for the class. I don't recall what I said, and likely could no longer even use that jargon any more. I know I panned the book a bit. It was too precious, too contrived, too redolent of "writer's workshop"--whatever.But there was a spark, an appealing potential... So nearly 20 years later I find The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in the latest Donor's Choose addition to my classroom library. Home run! I love the voice, the authenticity, the portrait of a young man going through his early teens with all the requisite suffering that age entails, coupled with all the requisite suffering that age entails growing up on the rez. It's funny and sad and full of touching flourishes. I already know which students I'm going to recommend read it.